PROFILES IN EDUCATION
Sandra Bennett: A Personal War on Drugs
Sandra Bennett has learned that “doing the right thing” can be stymied by politics and opposing agendas. After her oldest son, Garrett, a college senior, died of substance abuse in 1986, she embarked on a personal mission to fight drugs, only to be met by strong, well-financed groups who promote legalization. Moved by the sacrifices of the soldiers from her small town in the state of Washington who serve in Iraq, she began sending letters of support and then packages, only to read and hear harsh media bashing of the war and, to her mind, undermining of the troops. Bennett thinks her compassion and generosity were fostered by her mother who, she remembers, praised her for giving her bag of candy to a poor woman one Halloween when she was only three years old. Bennett does not consider gifts that “do not have meaning to the donor” as genuine giving. She recommends extending time and energy to help others.
A true crusader, she believes she is fighting two wars—against drugs and to make the world safer. In her letters to soldiers in Iraq she often refers to “the war on this front, too—drugs.” In addition to expressions of appreciation and warm, folksy chat about life and family, she adds, “My passion is drug prevention.” Her frustration is evident in, “For whatever reason, the media has chosen to ignore the fact that more than 16,000 American youngsters die every year from the use of illegal psychoactive and addictive substances.” Her packages often includeEducating Voices, Inc.’s anti-drug playing cards. This determined woman, who has researched and gotten a handle on soldiers’ needs and how to reach them, explains, “Iraq is not like WW II and the Vietnam War where our troops slept in ditches for weeks on end.” Most troops live “behind the lines” in various kinds of “housing” and have some electricity and computer access. Her packages include computer games, microwave popcorn, and DVDs as well as candy, toothpaste, sun block, and socks. She is proud of the thank you notes she receives and sees them as reminders of the importance of support. A long, moving letter from 1st Lt. Jason Blackston in Iraq says, “I am impressed with your willingness to share your hearts with a complete stranger.” Describing giving candy from her package to local children, this soldier muses, “The kids tell the whole story….It breaks my heart that I could give everything I have and not make a dent in their need.” Bennett finds soldier contact information on several Web sites including America Supports You.mil. “That Web page should be in every newspaper daily,” she suggests. “People don’t know how to help.”
To bolster her war against addictive substances, Bennett makes radio and TV appearances, edits and writes articles, gives legal testimony, has appeared before Congressional committees, volunteers for advocacy organizations, speaks to parents, students, and medical personnel, and has been president of Drug Watch International. She sees a dangerous shift in the culture. “Unless you’re in this line of work, you have no idea of what is going on.” She explains, “Treatment rather than prevention is the buzzword.” Drug prevention education should start early, yet DARE, a formerly popular police sponsored program, is no longer in the schools. “Nearly every college campus has a pro-drug club.” Her particular bete noir and biggest challenge is those who would legalize marijuana for medical use. Bennett believes “medicalization” has been chosen strategically as the best route to gain eventual general acceptance of the drug. Heavily funded organizations such as Drug Policy Alliance, Open Society, and HEMP are experiencing successes as medical marijuana is now legal in 12 states (not New York). Bennett sees marijuana as “a gateway drug” that breaks the barrier between legal and illegal activities. She is frustrated by a “manipulative” media and the power of money to influence legislators. She continues fighting and looks forward to a world of “drug-free, healthy cultures.”#